Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar held its 2012 Commencement Ceremony on 7 May at the Education City Student Center, conferring 43 Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in fashion, graphic and interior design and two Master of Fine Arts degrees in Design Studies.
The 11th Commencement – which also celebrates the first class of designers of the first graduate program in design in the region – brings the number of VCUQatar alumni to 365.
“Graduation is a time for celebration and reflection,” said VCUQatar Dean Allyson Vanstone in her message to the graduating students. “Your years at VCUQatar have been transformational for each of you. You have enriched our university and our wider community through your projects, research, service, activities and unique voice. You have already contributed toward our vision of a Qatari society that innovates through art and design. You are fortunate to graduate within an environment that acknowledges your talents and challenges you to participate in building the nation and to contribute to the Qatar National Vision 2030,” she added.
The ceremony marks the culmination of years of hard work and perseverance on the part of the BFA and MFA graduates. They have spent their time at VCUQatar fulfilling an intensive and rigorous curriculum, one designed to foster not just first-rate designers but well-rounded individuals prepared for the challenges and responsibilities of a highly complex professional world. Students, their families, friends, faculty and staff came together to celebrate VCUQatar graduates’ accomplishments and rejoice in their venture into the professional field as they take their expertise and creative capacities to every area of design.
Virginia Commonwealth University President Dr. Michael Rao addressed the graduating students during the ceremony. “My greatest privilege in this role is honoring our students who dream big and accomplish much, who possess an unrelenting desire to create, and who are distinguished in their pursuit of excellence. The pinnacle of your academic pursuits, whether you study in Richmond or in Doha, is always commencement. I am honored and delighted to be with you on your day,” said President Rao. “In your time at VCUQatar, you have demonstrated a desire to be the very best and nothing else. Now, you are called upon to be leaders in your field. That is what graduates of Virginia Commonwealth University do all around the globe. Not take jobs, but create them. Not consume, but innovate. Not simply to be a part of the world, but to change the world. This is what we ask you to do as VCU’s newest alumni. And this is what the world will expect you to do because of your credentials. As you graduate, you become further evidence of why VCUArts is ranked so highly,” he added. President Rao concluded his address saying, “You depart with a tremendous responsibility, and I am confident that we can count on you to accept the challenge of advancing new opportunities for humankind throughout the world.”
Anne Marie Paltsou, fashion and public relations consultant from Milan, delivered the commencement address to the 45 graduates during the afternoon ceremonies. “Work is all about passions and relationships,” she began. In a career that spans over three decades, Paltsou has managed all things commercial in the fashion world, from buying merchandise to creating showrooms, organizing fashion shows and public relations events. She drew on her own experiences in her address. She began her career in fashion working part time for French designer Jean Baptiste Caumont who was based in Milan. In 1979 she joined Gianni Versace, who was at the beginning of his career, and with four temporary sales people under her, sold the collections from a small showroom. By 1984 Gianni Versace’s career had taken off, and Paltsou took charge as worldwide sales and marketing manager. During her time with Versace, Paltsou was also responsible for the creation of 80 corporate stores and franchises in the US, Europe and Middle East, as well as 60 corner department stores for the different product lines. In 2000, Paltsou joined Saks Fifth Avenue as their representative in Milan. Paltsou taught fashion marketing and distribution for the Master’s program at the Istituto Europeo di Design in Milan for three years (2004-2007). “People never forget if you have been good or bad in business with them,” she said citing several instances.
During the ceremony renowned Master Calligrapher Mohamed Zakariya was invited to the podium by the President Rao to confer upon him the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, VCU’s highest form of recognition. President Rao was joined by VCU Rector Thomas Snead in the presentation, while Dr. Beverly Warren, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at VCU and VCUQatar Dean Allyson Vanstone performed the hooding ceremony.
Since settling in the Washington, D.C., area in 1972, Zakariya has traveled frequently to Turkey and the Persian Gulf and has exhibited and lectured extensively in the United States and abroad. Known for his design of the “Eid Greetings” U.S. postage stamp, he concentrates primarily on classical Arabic and Ottoman Turkish calligraphy. In 2009, Mr. Zakarya was commissioned by U.S. President Barack Obama to create a gift of calligraphy for King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia. Mr. Zakariya’s experience includes a stint as artist-in-residence at the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art in Honolulu; solo exhibitions at the Institute for Works on Paper, San Francisco, the Bellevue (Washington) Arts Center, the Asia Society New York; and group exhibitions in Dubai and Kuwait. Zakariya is considered the preeminent ambassador of the art of Islamic calligraphy in America. He was a member of the VCUQatar Joint Advisory Board from August 2003 to May 2011.
“‘By being true to your passion, you will always succeed.’ This is what I have learned based on my experiences,” said Fashion Design graduate and Valedictorian Yang Soon Ju in her address to the graduates. “I feel so empowered by my knowledge and transformed by my experience after my journey together with the class of 2012, learning and sharing at VCUQatar. And now, I am about to realize my dream of being a designer and artist. It was incredible for me to be able to interact with the local community of Doha and the international art and design community through design research, design competitions, conferences, and joint projects. VCUQatar has given me fabulous opportunities to realize my true passion, something that I love enough to dedicate my life to. My four years of university life have gone by in the blink of an eye, thanks to this passion.”
Following the Valedictorian’s speech, Dr. Douglas Boudinot, dean of the Graduate School, presented the candidates of the Master of Fine Arts degree in Design Studies their diplomas; Dean Vanstone presented the candidates for the Bachelor of Fine Arts degree their diplomas and President Rao conferred upon them their MFA and BFA degrees. Dr. Timothy Hulsey, Dean of the Honors College, recognized the honors graduates.
“We must celebrate the days of success and always prepare for the challenges that meet each of us as we venture through life,” said Interior Design graduate and Salutatorian Nour Abu Ghazaleh. “For although we may consciously make the most positive of decisions day-to-day, we all know that there will always be hard days. It is during the times of success that people will know our name, and it is during times of trouble that people will know our character. We have now graduated, received our education. We are equipped to take on the world. Our life is now our destiny. Academia will not impose deadlines for theses with minimum word counts. VCUQatar has built a strong foundation for the future we must independently design and build.”
Fashion Design Class Marshal and Interior Design double major Mona Al Ansari was inspired by a William Arthur Ward quote – ‘If you can imagine it, you can design it, if you can achieve it, you can become it’- she tweaked to express her goals. “It makes me happy today to look at my son Saqer and see him gaze at me with pride not just as his mother but as his role model,” she said. “Now I look back at the five years that I spent at VCUQatar, each year is a chapter that holds its own beautiful story, designing us into independent, strong ,and creative people, able to take on the challenges of life. Being a VCUQatar student makes you part of a larger family, bonding us forever and opening a lot of doors to our bright future.”
“Hard working, ambitious and creative – this is how I would describe VCUQatar’s Interior Design Class of 2012,” said Interior Design Class Marshall Alexandra Windrum. “This wonderful group of individuals has helped shape the designer and woman I am today. Over the past four years our bond together has grown and flourished and I consider you not only friends, but as family. We each have the strength and courage to fulfill our dreams and through our wonderful education at VCUQatar we now have the skills to make our dreams a reality. It gives me great honor to have been part of the VCUQatar family; this is only the beginning of our exciting journey and I know each and every one of you will do amazing things that can only make this world a more beautiful place. Congratulations to the Class of 2012.”
The other luminaries present for the ceremony included H.E. Dr. Abdulla bin Ali Al-Thani, president of Hamad bin Khalifa University and vice president, Education, at QF, David Prior, executive vice president and provost, Hamad bin Khalifa University; guests from VCU Richmond – Susan Roth, senior associate dean of the School of the Arts; Board of Visitors – Jacquelyn Stone, Dr. Kamlesh N. Dave, Lillian Lambert, Thomas McCandlish, William M. Ginther, William Royall among others.
The 45 new VCUQatar graduates will join the band of 320 alumni who have gone on to successfully establish their own businesses or take up jobs in various positions in Education City, the semi-government and private sectors and ministries in Qatar.